Sunday, 23 April 2017

Numbers still high in the north and no doubt building in Iceland)

As Graham mentioned in the last post (and I too apologise for the delay in posting anything) there are by now lots of Brent in western Iceland and while numbers between Co. Down and Dublin are certainly down to relatively small numbers (unlike the thousands of a few weeks ago), we've reasonable numbers hanging on further north.

And at this time of year often calling in the background are Sandwich Terns, Whimbrel and that gorgeous splash of colour is provided by flocks of Black-tailed Godwits. The latter two both destined for setting up territories in the Icelandic landscape.

Yesterday in Co. Louth there were again large numbers of increasingly colourful Godwits including two colour-ringed birds and easily the largest groups of Whimbrel I've ever seen.
Admittedly I don't get out much, but 480 Whimbrel mixed with Black-tailed Godwits flying between a restricted high tide roost space and some soft grass invertebrate-filled fields was impressive. For those of you who haven't read this, a lovely insight into the migratory schedules and routes of Icelandic Whimbrel is in Jose Alves and co-authors paper -
http://www.nature.com/articles/srep38154.

Even without reading rings today at Dundrum it was evident there were new kids in town with an especially pale plumaged noticeable individual and 2 dark-bellied (nominate bernicla) birds present. A metal-ringed BY and a BB were new to me and we're still getting good positional data from some of the neck-collared and GPS backpacked birds. When we get some downloads from Iceland (APB's being issued on target birds there) we'll endeavour to show some maps showing how the birds made the journey from Ireland- Iceland. Not via aircraft which is our vehicle of choice in the next few weeks.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Birds On The Move Again...

This blog seems to have degenerated into a half-yearly epistle!! Apologies about that!! And apologies also that my feedback is so far behind still - currently just over a month!! As I keep saying, I ought to be sacked, but no-one else would be mad enough to take it on!!
However, as quite a large team of us prepare to head out on our annual pilgrimage to the staging grounds in Iceland, records coming in tell us that this is timely (although there are conflicting stories of cold weather there......).
Out in Iceland, Ólafur Torfason has been sending us in records of marked birds from the south Reykjavk area since early this month. From the Scottish Islands, such as Tiree, Barra, Islay, North & South Uist, records have been coming in from numerous observers (many thanks!!), all indicating that birds are on their way.
Here in Ireland the same is the case, with places like Dublin Bay reportedly going down radically in numbers, whilst here, in Northern Ireland, we are starting to see some turnover at our sites, despite numbers also reducing, but more gradually. Places like Killough Harbour and Dundrum Bay seem to be used by birds with families to nurture up the weakest juveniles for their long journey north, first to Iceland, then onwards to High Arctic Canada.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

A goose chase with a continental twist

Following on from the 5 Nov post, further news on collared goose 7VBY.  As it and its mate 9ABY have settled for the winter at Regneville, a trip was arranged to try and download the data from this GPS collared bird. I headed across on the cross channel ferry and met up with Bruno Chevalier, Alain Livory & Rosalyne Coulomb, three key contributors to our goose resighting family from this beautiful La Manche department in Normandy.

A few minor fieldwork issues to contend with: firstly the collars have moved into a battery saving ‘winter mode’ so only try and talk to the receiver every 12 hours. This of course means one of these times is after dark, and, as it happens, one early in the morning. Lovely clear skies meant for some sub-zero temperatures as we stood out on the saltmarsh in the dark listening to the roosting geese cackling gently out on the estuary. Lovely stars but no download acquired alas, although the problem with looking at geese in the dark is not knowing which rings are present!

So a repeat attempt was made the following morning while the birds were out preening on the sandbanks. Unfortunately once more no download was successful, although one hour later we did get excellent views of the flock, including 7VBY & 9ABY as they came out to graze on the saltmarsh. It’s an interesting wintering population as the flock is a mix of pale-bellied (hrota) and dark-bellied (bernicla) races, and there are now around 20 ringed birds from the hrota flyway wintering here in amongst the >1000 individuals. These include birds ringed in late Spring in Dublin, and also Icelandic ringed birds (as with 7VBY & 9ABY which were ringed in Kolgrafafjordur in May this year). Lots of juveniles of both races apparent in the flock as well. Indeed, the saltmarsh grazing areas have excellent catching potential, and with fine company and the delights of French cuisine to sample, I think this bears serious consideration!


My thanks to Bruno for hosting me, and to Bruno, Alain & Rosalyne for taking the time to show me their patch and stand around in subzero temperatures while I just stood there pointing an aerial out to sea! They have kindly agreed to try again, so hopefully we will learn in more depth about 7VBY’s travels.